The Lions travel to Dublin to face the UCF Knights in what is ostensibly a home game for the Knights. It’s the only way Penn State would play a home-and-home series with UCF, because if they played in Orlando at Bright House Stadium, they’d lose a big chunk of revenue. But the two canny Irishmen, old football buddies George O’Leary and Bill O’Brien arranged this fiasco and stuck us with it. So here we go.
The first Turkeyesque observation is that we’re dealing with an 8:30 AM start, US East Coast time. The 82,000 seat Croke Park does have floodlights to illuminate the field, so why the hell didn’t the O’s come up with a more reasonable hour for US viewers? How about a 5:00 PM start, Irish time? That would be noon here. WTF? It’s hard to drink Guinness Stout at 8:30 AM. You have to be in good beer guzzling shape for that.
This game will be played for the Dan Rooney Trophy. Dan, you know, is the current patriarch of the Steelers family and a former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. The trophy is made from 4,200 year-old Irish yew trees and Pittsburgh steel that was left over from the construction of Heinz Field. Rooney at first did not want his name on the trophy, but he was eventually convinced. Said Dan:
“Being associated with the U.S. and football … and sport in Ireland, I was very much honored,” Rooney said. “Peter McKenna was the one who asked me. I said, ‘I don’t deserve that. You should get someone Irish.’ He said ‘we definitely want you because we’re going to play American football.’ It means an awful lot now. It’s a real honor for me.”
Lest you think that we might be dealing with some contrived, fugly piece o’ shit like the much maligned Land Grant Trophy, get those thoughts out of your head. This is an elegant trophy that looks like a football — an American football — and the oiled yew wood makes it a rich, football-like brown color. Quite beautiful. in this turkey’s opinion.
The game, though. What happens when the boys take the field? That’s what we’re really here to see about. Or for me to expound about and confound you about, anyway.
We have little but speculation about James Franklin’s ability to coach. The usual media wonks and bloggists are out there saying he’ll do this and he’ll do that, but no one really knows what the hell actually will go on. You see, they’re all trying to make a story out of nothing at all. They’re comparing Franklin to O’Brien on balance even though we haven’t yet seen Franklin coach a single game. And of course, the Sanguinarians are saying that he’ll be so much better than O’Brien, because most of them have already written O’Brien off as a Paterno-hater, at least subconsciously.
And of course, now we’re getting similar, Sanguinarian inspired comparisons of DC Bob Shoop to — who? — Tom Bradley! Say, what?! Last thing I want to see is a soft secondary, which is precisely how the Sandusky/Bradley defense worked. Fortunately, they’re talking about aggressive defense, too, taking chances and using the blitz regularly. They’re kind of thin in personnel, especially at linebacker, to be going full-bore on the pass and run blitzes, but they’re apparently planning to use the secondary more aggressively on running plays instead of hanging thirty yards deep.
The secondary is pretty experienced, as Adrian Amos moves back to his natural position this year. They won’t have Blake Bortles throwing balls their way this year, either. I’d like to see them make a few plays, for a change. Maybe an interception. What do you say, boys?
On offense, who’s going to step up at wide receiver now that Allen Robinson is gone? Is Geno Lewis up to the task? Of graver concern is whether Christian Hackenberg will have the time to get the ball deep working behind an inexperienced offensive line. I’ve said it many times and will say it again. This offensive line will lose games for Penn State this year. Against a talented and stable defense like UCF’s, I smell a disaster and hope that Hackenberg doesn’t spend too much time on his back looking at the Irish sky.
There’s the seeds of a decent running game for Penn State, with Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton, and Akeel Lynch all returning, but they, too, need an offensive line that can block in order to be effective. It will take a few games for that to happen if indeed it is to happen at all. Lots of freshman meat running around up there. Scary.
Meanwhile, as I mentioned, UCF, who went 12-1 last year, returned nine defensive starters and 24 of 30 defensive players overall. They might lack the polished offense they had last year with, Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson having been lost to the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars, but we know by virtue of K. John’s adept scouting that the Knights’ offensive line cheats, and thus, they will be pretty effective at keeping redshirt freshman starting QB Pete DiNovo’s jersey clean.
So, thus far I haven’t said anything. That’s because I don’t know anything. After this game, if I can stay sober through 11 AM or so, I’ll know a lot more. It’s not going to be like the old Paterno ain’t going to show his hand in the early games kind of thing. Franklin better have both barrels loaded and ready to use for this one.
There’ll be some early good football weather for these two teams, although it’s raining at Croke Park at the moment. Saturday’s forecast is partly cloudy, with a high of 66ºF and a low of 52ºF.
And so, let’s get down to the Official Indefatigable Infallible Turkey Poop Prediction for this 2014 season kickoff game. But first, let me tell you that UCF has the nation’s third longest winning streak in Division I college football, after FSU and Moo U. Unlike Penn State, UCF likes to schedule its early games against teams with winning records. In fact, only UCF, Iowa State, North Carolina, and USC open 2014 with their first six games against teams with winning records from 2013. For a team not in the power conferences, that’s ballsy. I bet even the Ohio State marching band would show them respect for that kind of scheduling. But I digress.
Our panel is split right down the middle on this game, with the consensus choice being a tie. Joe, K. John, Mike, and Toejam espect a Penn State win, while Big Al, Drozz, RD, and this turkey expect the Lions to post an “L”. Faith and begorrah, the “home” team, UCF, is favored by a slim two points in this home away from home game on the Emerald Isle; the over/under is 46.5. This suggests UCF winding up on the winning end of a 25-22 score. I don’t think it’s that close. UCF 30, PSU 13. (PSU’s TD comes late in the game). Take the under.
The game will be carried live on ESPN2 at that ungodly hour of 8:30 AM. The crappy kickoff time notwithstanding, we’ll all be watching it — those of us who didn’t make the trip. But lest anyone be fearful that a football Saturday will end too early and you’ll have nothing to do all day, we have OSU at Navy and App State at Michigan at noon ET, Clemson vs. Georgia at 5:30 ET, and FSU vs. Oklahoma State and Wisconsin at LSU in the evening at 8 and 9, respectively. There’s a full college football schedule for this blast-off weekend!
The Nittany Turkey will be back after the game with a recap and a humble “I told you so.” See you soon.